Radio Melayu: Exploring Singapore and Sarawak with DJ Wan and special guest the Consul General of Malaysia, Mr Ahmad Fikri

Kuching murals are a great reason to walk around the city

Having just returned from Singapore and Sarawak I was given a great opportunity to talk fast and furiously with DJ Wan on Radio Melayu about my experiences.

We also had the Consul General of Malaysia, Mr Ahmad Fikri, come on the show and talk about his experiences of Sarawak and what we had spoken about together at a recent Tourism Malaysia event.

From some destinations in Singapore you might not be aware of to Sarawak, a land of constant activity by day and night, it was a wonderful opportunity to describe my adventures and encourage listeners to book their flights!

The Vagabond Club in Singapore is small in size but enormous in luxury and intrigue

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Sensational Sarawak!

A lot to see on the river, day and night

A few weeks ago, I spoke on the ABC about Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, and some of the tragic and heroic wartime history that connects Australia to Sarawak. Now, we’re going back to Sarawak to explore the streets of Kuching and discover the jungles, islands, wildlife and hopefully some food as well.

Enjoy listening to the audio file below, and maybe reading the words as well:

This is a part of the world that is adventurous and has that sought for wow factor of being remote and rugged but is also really easy to get to and get around once you’re there.

The story of Sarawak, just like the story of Australia, is about Indigenous tribes and culture going back thousands of years and learning to survive in their environment.

But we’re going to start in Singapore! It’s the 1840’s and let’s find out the connection to Sarawak, a land of blowpiping headhunters and pirates, to high collared and well-heeled English adventurers in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. 

Imagine the Raffles Hotel at this time.  With stiff upper lips and trousers pulled too high, Englishmen drank too much and rallied each other with outrageous stories while surrounded by an odour of self-entitlement.

James Brooke was tiring of this game when he had a grand idea and bold plan all at once.  He would sail his ship, the Royalist, up the Sarawak River at Kuching and fight the pirates that had taken control of the South China Sea and threatening the Straits of Singapore and Malacca.

He fought the pirates, was asked by local tribes to become their leader and so he became the White Raj, Rajah Brooke, and his family took the mantle when he died and until World War II the Brookes ran Sarawak as their own kingdom. Sarawak prospered under the Brookes but the relationship was also fractured due to the colonial style rule that we are familiar with.

The best things to discover:

  • Bako National Park: Take a boat up a long winding river, dodging crocodiles and traditional fish traps, coming up against soaring cliffs and entering a jungle filled with pit vipers, pitcher plants, proboscis monkeys and scuttling through the mangroves are the horseshoe crabs.
Big nose, big belly, big ….
  • Santubong Wildlife Cruise & Satang Island: Spot Irrawaddy dolphins, more crocodiles, turtles, hornbills and enjoy snorkelling over pristine corals extending from remote tropical islands.
  • Kuching waterfront: My favourite city waterfront in the world!  Water displays, wild characters, steaming laksas and grilling satays. Maybe a cool glass of Cendol as well!
  • Kuching Sunset Cruise:  Nothing in this world, apart from my children’s love, is better than a Borneo sunset and add to that the joy of chugging along onboard the MV Equatorial. I’m only sad because while they let me in the wheelhouse, they wouldn’t let me take the wheel.
  • Cultural Village, brand new Sarawak Museum, Annah Rais Longhouse and Songket:  Explore the history and diversity of tribal life in Sarawak.  Different tribes, including the Dayaks, Ibans, Orangan Ulu and also the influence of Chinese and Malay culture.  Be mesmerised by traditional Songket silk weaving.
  • Orangutans surrounded by jungle without a fence in site!
  • Murals and Cat Statues: The best reason to walk the streets of Kuching day or night.
Walk the mural trail of Kuching
  • Secret Bars!  Actually, the real best reason to walk the streets at night! What are the tell-tale signs of a secret bar?
  • Food!  Rooftop open air restaurants full of heaving baskets of fresh seafood, street level markets with steaming cauldrons of laksa and fresh vegetables, including my favourite the Midin, which is a tangled mess of exotic green fern tops found in the jungle and steamed with wild garlic!
Glorious Midin
  • Rainforest Music Festival: Held each year and featuring music from Indigenous groups all over the world. More than gigs and concerts, there are workshops in creating music and traditional instruments.

Sarawak is a hidden treasure because it’s far enough off the beaten track that you’ll get the thrill of lots of people saying, ‘Where’s that?’

You’ll enjoy exploring rugged and remote wilderness without getting malaria and exploring old laneways for murals, music, laksas and secret bars while surrounded by a community that is interested in who you are and just like you, enjoys staying up late.

Can you see what’s in the centre of this pic?

As published in Just Urbane: Just saying it is an adventure …. Malacca!

For the August issue of Just Urbane I’ve written a story about Malacca. The Straits of Malacca is one of those bodies of water that is famous for its pirates and spice traders. Malacca is more than a melting pot of culture, it’s a seething cauldron! The Dutch, Portugese, Chinese, Indian, Malay and British influence is in the buildings, it’s in the food, it’s in the craft and art of the little alley shops and it’s in the streets and on the river.

Enjoy reading my story below:

And if that’s not enough to get you on the next flight to Malaysia, here’s a couple of pics of my Malacca:

Quiet streets just waiting for you to wander down them
Late night cafes and bars by the riverfront

With Have A Go News Newspaper, Let’s Go Travelling…to KL!

Have A Go News

In the link above to Have A Go News enjoy reading my feature article on travelling, eating and shopping your way around Kuala Lumpur and making sure you stay somewhere amazing as well. You can also find Have A Go News in over 1800 outlets across Perth and regional Western Australia.


Love Lot 10! From the Hutong Food Court in the basement, amazing shops and activities in between and the cheesecake in Tokyo Restaurant at the top, you’ll be splashing your cash and loving every minute of it.


Travel from KL airport to Kl on the fantastic KLIA Ekspres.  The best way to travel into KL and also the easiest and most comfortable.

IMG_5893.JPGStay in the heart of KL’s shopping precinct, Bukit Bintang, at the luxurious and very friendly JW Marriott.  If you’re not doing the shopping, this will be the perfect place to wait for your shopping partner to return.  Look, they even parked my car under the hotel sign!

95.3fm: Radio Conversations About Malaysia

On Saturday evening, 18 September, I spoke on 95.3fm about my regular Malaysian travels, Malaysian food and Malaysian tourism strategies.

We also spoke about Rajah Brooke butterflies, the JDT Tigers, the benefits and consequences of spicy food and how much I enjoy using the rail network (particularly the monorail) in Kuala Lumpur to travel the city.

Have a look and listen to the discussion at their Facebook page: 6EBA 95.3FM Radio Melayu (


Pic above: I love talking about Malaysia.


Pic above: The Rajah Brooke Butterfly that I found in the jungles of Perak.


Pic above: KLIA Ekspres is a very fast, very quiet and very comfortable ride between KL International Airport (KLIA 1 & KLIA 2) and Kuala Lumpur.

Malay Fashion and Cultural Show

A vibrant, elegant and delicious way to spend time with my daughter and a Malaysian community so proud of their culture

I recently had two wonderful reasons to attend the Malay Fashion and Cultural Show.

Having just returned from an opportunity to travel to Johor with the Consul-General of Malaysia, Mr Nazarudin Jaafar, I was keen to catch up and discuss some of our experiences. I also needed to spend some time with my daughter Matilda and to take her along to this event was great for both of us.

The afternoon promised cultural performances, live entertainment and a delicious meal. It certainly delivered that and a lot more.

We began our afternoon with a cool glass of bandung and met some of the guests who had been invited, including representatives from Tourism Johor who had looked after me so well on my recent adventure.

malay2 (1)

With the show about to begin we were escorted to our tables. It wasn’t long before music and dance from Cempakasari, Yayasan Warisan Johor and other groups completely absorbed us in the vibrant culture of Malaysia.


Strong vocal performances by Shahnizam Omar and the very popular Liza Hanim ensured that the audience were inspired and proud.

The fashion parade was extremely elegant and I only wish there had been some men’s fashion on display. Surely next year the Consul-General can model one of his tailor made suits.



With food that was authentic and delicious, Matilda and I made our way through curry, spicy rice, satay and some delicate pandan sweets before making the difficult decision that it was time for us to go home.

The hard work by Makan Angin Perth, Radio Melayu Perth, the Johor Heritage Foundation, Pelangi Biru and of course Imran and everyone else involved made sure that this was an event that was spectacular and inspiring.

In the car on the way home, Matilda couldn’t stop talking about the music, the costumes and the food but most importantly she had a great big smile on her face and said that everyone was so happy and friendly and she wants to go to Malaysia for her next holiday.

What a great idea!

Labuan: A very surprising and welcoming island

I featured Labuan Island in a recent interview on 6PR radio.  This article was written for Grand Dorsett Labuan.

Grand Dorsett Labuan

I’m standing in the lobby of the Grand Dorsett Labuan amidst a crew of Dorsett Grand Labuan staff. They are about to perform their welcome song for my crew, an assortment of trekkers from various parts of Australia who have recently completed the Sandakan Ranau Death March Trek, retracing the footsteps of Prisoners of War in 1945.

I’ve been pulled into the group and handed the song sheet which is in English and Bahasa Malay. I keep up reasonably well even though I don’t know the tune and speak very limited Bahasa Malay.

The one image I have of this experience is looking up from my song sheet across at the singers alongside me as they belt out the line, “We welcome you to Dorsett Labuan!” and they’re singing with smiles on their faces. They’re not embarrassed and there’s no reluctance to show their pride and enthusiasm for their hotel.

My group of trekkers are spellbound. Many have travelled throughout the world and it’s the most heartfelt greeting any of them have received in a hotel. I used to think being gonged on arrival and handed a peach iced tea was pretty special but these guys are the best I’ve seen at welcoming guests.

The Dorsett Grand Labuan is the only five star hotel on the island and just minutes from the airport, waterfront and the busy town centre. The hotel receives regular awards for its customer service and with their singing staff I think they also have a good chance of winning Malaysia’s Got Talent.

Labuan Island is a territory of Malaysia off the western coast of Borneo and to the south of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. It can accessed easily by plane or ferry or if you’re slightly more adventurous, by speed boat. Electing the speed boat route takes 20 minutes from the mainland and you motor past islands, shipwrecks and red hulled offshore drilling ships waiting for their next job.

The island has a wonderful pace about it and even the traffic is slower than you’ll find in other parts of South East Asia and distinctly more courteous.

Labuan:  Where even a Ferrari will slow down to let you cross the road.

While most tourists come for the great duty free shopping, particularly the textiles and technology, there is also a very good museum with free entry located five minutes’ walk from the Dorsett Grand Labuan. The colourful history and cultural themes of Labuan is well documented with many interesting and interpretive displays.

The first Governor of Labuan, James Brooke, was better suited to his original inspiration for coming to Borneo in the 1800’s.  After some strategic discussion at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Brooke set off across the South China Sea to rid Borneo of its Pirates.  He was better at being swashbuckling than sitting behind a desk but those who took his place have done a magnificent job of creating an island where the shopping is brilliant, the history is rich, the hawker markets are cheap and delicious and the diving and fishing is just about unbeatable anywhere in the world. For those with a love of reality tv, Survivor Island, where the first ever Survivor series was set, is located nearby to the north and tours allow you to wallow in the same mud pools as the contestants, including a nude Richard Hatch.

My trekking group have come to Labuan to bind together the Sandakan Death March Trek that began with many days of trekking through mountainous Borneo jungle and then riding a stock carriage train to the coast, then a fast boat to the island. Every step we’ve taken and the stories we have talked about have led us to Labuan War Cemetery, the final resting place for the few whose remains are known and the many who are only ‘Known Unto God’.

Labuan War Cemetery

As we walk the lines of memorial graves we think about the Australian and British Prisoners of War who perished at Sandakan and Ranau and on the three death marches in 1945. We think about how the final 15 prisoners were shot and killed 12 days after the war had finished. From 2434 Australian and British Prisoners of War, only 6 survived.

We stand in front of Richard Murray’s grave. He stepped forward from a line of men and said that he alone stole rice, knowing he would be killed. Stealing rice was a capital offence and he sacrificed his life so that others may live.

We stand in front of Captain John Oakeshott’s grave, a doctor who had the opportunity to escape but decided to stay with the sick. He was one those killed 12 days after the war had ended.

As a fighter jet from the Royal Malaysian Air Force flies over the Cross of Sacrifice at the cemetery we also remember the sacrifice of so many local people from Sabah and Sarawak who were killed during World War II and the bravery of those who provided assistance to the prisoners.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force pays tribute to the fallen from the Empire.

It is a beautiful war cemetery, well maintained by Labuan authorities and staff are on site Monday to Friday from 7am to 4:30pm.

While the trek has been physically exhausting the walk through Labuan War Cemetery has been emotionally exhausting. Returning to the Dorsett Grand Labuan, our group is quiet and some choose to just sit in the lobby while others go off to breakfast, for a swim or a play with the resident sun loving cat.

Susan Carlos is a wonderful General Manager of the Grand Dorsett Labuan but this cat is truly in charge.

For each us, in our own way, we find the space to reflect on our journey. I’ve cried during this trek but for now I am smiling. As I remember the staff at the hotel who sang to us I know I have to come back and share this experience with others, for the history of the past and for the friendships of the future.

Back to Borneo, the race is on!

Travel Warnings Warning: Do your own research.

Looking at the adventures I have had and who they have been with I am torn between solo jungle treks and family resorts as what I have enjoyed the most. That’s really what defines the joy of travel for me; no matter what I do, it’s always better than sitting at home.

When I am sitting at home and find myself looking at travel destinations, part of my research is to check the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website. Travel advice and bulletins have been available on their Smartraveller site since 2000.

The advice you’ll find highlights the range of threats you may encounter at your destination and may include information relating to health, security, local customs and laws and natural events and disasters, such as the recent Bali flight disruptions caused by the ash eruptions of Mt Raung.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop says that the Australian Government frequently consults with foreign governments on a range of issues as part of normal diplomatic relations, including on matters relevant to the safety of Australians.

“DFAT also engages with other stakeholders, including in the travel industry, to understand any changes in the local threat environment,” the Minister said.

Many Australian publications maintain an editorial policy not to encourage travel to destinations where travel warnings are sufficiently serious enough to advise that people do not visit. It’s a completely responsible decision that I don’t disagree with but it got me thinking about countries that have travel warnings issued against them and the actions being taken to improve the safety, security and health of travellers.

As an example, the Smartraveller advisory for the east coast of Sabah is, ‘reconsider your need to travel’. I have travelled to the Malaysian state of Sabah several times as a trekker and as a father. Whether it’s the jungles, mountains, caves, wildlife, shopping or the resorts, there’s much to love about this Malaysian state at the top of Borneo.

Sandakan, on the east coast, has a remarkable connection to Australians, including many Western Australians who died there during World War II. The tragic and infamous Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp and the three death marches to Ranau at the foot of Mount Kinabalu cost the lives of 2428 Prisoners of War (1787 were Australian and 641 were British) and thousands of locals who were made to work for the Japanese and many of whom were caught providing assisting to the prisoners.

The east coast of Sabah is at present experiencing security challenges in meeting the threat of armed insurgents from the nearby Sulu Archipelago chain of islands that make up the southern Phillipines.

Since 2013, the severity of insurgent attacks on the people of Sabah and kidnapping of foreigners has intensified. Two foreign tourists were attacked in their resort off the coast of eastern Sabah and a male tourist was murdered and his wife kidnapped and held captive for several months. In 2014 a foreign tourist and a local employee were kidnapped from a resort and in May this year a gunman with links to insurgents operating in the Sulu islands abducted the manager and a local customer from a restaurant near Sandakan.

It all sounds a bit grim doesn’t it? You’d think it’s not the sort of place to tell my parents that I’m taking their grandchildren to so they can see orangutans in the jungle when they can see them in comfort at the Perth Zoo.

Orangutans from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre near Sandakan

Having a look at Smartraveller I source their latest update on worldwide kidnapping threats. 27 countries have a current prevalence of kidnapping and there are broader areas of concern, including North Africa and parts of West Africa. Since June 2014 when the last reported kidnapping involving a foreigner occurred in eastern Sabah there have been 16 kidnappings involving foreign nationals in 8 countries across the world and none of them happened on the east coast of Sabah, or anywhere in Malaysia for that matter.

In March 2013, the Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, launched ESSZONE, the Eastern Sabah Security Zone, and the main enforcement agency ESSCOM, the Eastern Sabah Security Command.

Within ESSZONE, the capabilities of land, sea and air defence and surveillance forces has been upgraded to include new police stations and military forces comprising of five full strength battalions stationed in the area. Naval ships with helicopters and quick response teams are located off the eastern Sabah coast and an oil rig is being utilised as a permanent sea base for ESSCOM forces. The Royal Malaysian Air Force is transferring fighter jets to cover the area and armed attack helicopters will also be attached to ESSCOM.

According to Prime Minister Razak the security levels will remain high as a deterrent to further insurgent activity and increase the confidence of local people and those travelling to Sabah.

The vision and mission for ESSCOM is for its operations to lead to the safety and the wellbeing of the people in eastern Sabah by 2017 and to work with all agencies to increase the ability to gather intelligence and information sharing.

Every travel advisory from the Smartraveller website is reviewed and reissued at least twice a year. The travel advice is a summary of the most likely risks that a traveller may face. According to DFAT it takes into account the overall threat environment, including the capabilities and responses of local authorities.

What’s lacking in travel warnings is a link to the countermeasures being undertaken by a country with a travel warning issued against it. Also, rather than just taking into account the capabilities and responses of local authorities when forming an advisory, it would be useful to disclose what the capabilities, responses and resources of local authorities are.


It’s a serious situation in eastern Sabah that is reflected by the travel advice of the DFAT travel advisory but unless a traveller is provided with information on the evidence of countermeasures to the situation then it’s only half the story. The Malaysian Government has reacted to the issues by establishing significant police and military forces in the area and is working with the community and other agencies to ensure that security is maintained and information is shared to reduce the risk of insurgent action.

The Smartraveller website provides effective, useful and important information that all travellers should utilise prior to travel and during travel. What the website is not providing is the opportunity to be a one stop shop for travellers to self-assess a situation in another country. While DFAT explain that the internal affairs of other countries, including law and order and public health, are the responsibility of those countries, DFAT is having an impact on the internal affairs of countries by issuing travel advisory information that doesn’t present the full story to travellers undertaking their travel research.

Let me just tell you who recently travelled safely to Sandakan on the 15th of August 2015 for Sandakan Memorial Day; tour groups, including ex-Prisoners of War, school children from across Australia, our Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, the British High Commissioner Vicki Treadell and senior staff from the Australian War Graves Commission in Canberra.

Perhaps it’s still not enough for you to travel to the east coast of Sabah, despite the increased security in place, but at least you have more information to make your own assessment.



The Sunday Times newspaper: Legoland – The building blocks for an amazing family adventure

Published by Escape travel supplement for Australian Sunday newspapers.

The writer and his family were guests of Tourism Malaysia, Tourism Johor and Tiger Air.

In life, when we have a straightforward decision to make we often use the expression that the decision is black and white. This means it’s an easy decision to make. There aren’t a lot of options or consequences.

For a family holiday the typical black and white decision might be something like, ‘Shall we holiday in Australia or go overseas?’ or ‘Shall we have an adventure or enjoy the luxury of a resort?’

I have just discovered that life is not just black and white. It is also blue. It is red. It is green and yellow and orange. It is just about every colour you can imagine. Life is Lego.

Without doubt one of the most wonderful memories I have of arriving at the Legoland Hotel was all of us bursting out laughing with sheer happiness at how wonderful the hotel looked.

Two adults and two children were just in awe of this hotel that looks like it’s built of Lego bricks. It’s got big blue turrets, an exterior staircase made out of oddly coloured Lego bricks and over the entrance is a gigantic green dragon whose bottom has smashed through the roof.


If you needed any persuading that it couldn’t possibly be as gloriously bold and bright as I’m describing, let me just refer you to the doorman’s stand at the entrance. You know that stand you go to outside a hotel front door when you want to ask the doorman to get you a taxi or ask if there is an umbrella you could borrow? Well this stand is a big green Lego brick. Even the signs that the security guards carry at the entrance to the theme park that say, ‘Security Check’ are made of Lego.

If you’ve missed the exterior of the hotel upon your arrival the interior is even brighter and is chaotic. There is a large Lego castle and Lego pirate ship in the middle of the reception area and there pits full of Lego bricks where children are deliriously building whatever they want, no instructions required.


Have you ever wanted to burst into song in a lift full of strangers? If you are shouting out ‘Yes!’ then make your way please to the Legoland Hotel at Jahor Bahru, Malaysia. As the doors close in each lift a mirror ball starts to spin, flashing lights swirl in the confined space and disco music begins. I feel sorry for those people who are on the lower floors as Dancing Queen is only just getting going when they have to get out. We get a longer ride and by the time our doors open we strut out of the lift still singing and striking poses that ABBA’s Agnetha and Anni-Frid could only dream about.

The 249 rooms throughout the hotel are all themed. We’ve got ourselves an Adventure room overlooking Legoland. On the shelves and walls of our room there are life-size Lego monkeys, parrots, lizards and snakes while in the bathroom above the toilet is a giant Lego tarantula and above the sink is a giant Lego scorpion. On another wall in the bathroom is a Lego hat like Indiana Jones would wear.


The carpets are themed. The walls are themed and the bed linen and pillows all represent your theme. Even the hallways outside your room continue your theme.

I’m not sure what dangers lurk on the Kingdom and Pirate themed floors but whenever we leave our room Matilda and Tom keep pushing me over, trying to save me from falling down the ‘open trap doors’ on the carpet.

Not long after we settle into our room the kids complete the quiz that reveals a code to the room safe (guarded by a large Lego monkey). Inside the safe there are prizes for the kids and then there’s a knock on the door.

At the door is Daphne Tan, the Public Relations Manager, Sales and Marketing, for Legoland Malaysia Resort. I’ve been keen to meet Daphne who is so enthusiastic about the resort facilities.

I don’t know if she’s ever seen a more excited family than ours and with our loud voices and the kids running around, I’m sure that when she got back into one of those disco lifts she enjoyed the relative peace and quiet.

With a few hours before sunset and a bright blue sky outside we decide to head out to the water park. From our room, down the disco lifts and out to the water park takes us less than five minutes.

We head straight for the Build-A-Raft River, a lazy winding river with lots of tubes to drift on. There are giant Lego clams that squirt water at you and there are Lego bricks that drift by and you can collect them and build your own raft. Our construction is more like flotsam than a raft but it does the job as Tom perches on top and it’s kept stable by his patient sister.


Next stop is the wave pool. Quite shallow and with waves regularly rolling through, it’s an opportunity to actually have a peaceful float, looking up at the giant Legoland sign on the hill and studying the amazing architecture of the hotel.

Moments later I’m told it’s time to move on, not by one of the numerous life guards but by two children desperate to ride the Red Rush. This ride is a very high and wide waterslide and you climb into a big circular life raft to make your descent. It spins around enough to cause a few screams but not scary enough to stop the kids bolting back up to the top to do it again…and again.

We slow down the pace after multiple Red Rush rides and try out the make-a-boat. This is the moment where I am back in my own childhood in my old cast iron bath with claw feet. I’d build boats out of my bricks and sail them on storm tossed seas made by swaying my legs back and forth. Occasionally my waves would spill over the top, carrying my boat over the edge and breaking into pieces on the bathroom floor.

Matilda and Tom are building a boat and I set to work making my own. When we’re finished we run to the start of the obstacle course that the boats have to make their way down. There’s a starters gate and we count down for our race and are held up momentarily by other kids who also want to race their boats.

Moments later they’re off and my boat immediately twists to one side and is rolled underwater by another boat and crushed, just like my dreams of victory. Somehow, Matilda and Tom’s boat escapes the carnage and reaches the bottom first, a triumph for the little family from Australia!

A few more slides, a few more thrills and it’s time to go back to the hotel, to have a shower with the tarantula and scorpion in the bathroom (using Legoland Hotel soap in the shape of a Lego brick of course).

The next day we make the five minute walk to Legoland, this time without our bathers. After having a chat with the red Ninjago character we head off towards our first stop, Legoland Driving School. After a DVD presentation on the rules of the road and a briefing from an instructor on what they learnt from the DVD the kids make their way outside to the vehicles. The course replicates a real road environment complete with traffic lights, roundabouts and all sorts of signs.

I have a photo of Tom driving his car that I will pass on to his driving instructor in about ten year’s time. Despite the lessons, despite the briefing, despite the six foot bright white arrow painted on the road, there is Tom, looking intently ahead, on the wrong side of the road.

About this time last year Tom was lucky enough to spend some time with Formula 1 Grand Prix driver, Daniel Riccardio. They had a chat and Tom gave Daniel one of his Hot Wheels cars. Perhaps Daniel gave Tom some tips on using the road a bit differently to the rest of us.

Legoland has more than 70 rides and exhibitions. Throughout the day we are on rides, off rides and looking at amazing Lego creations, including the recreation in Lego of Asian landmarks in Miniland and the Star Wars exhibition. Watching the Millennium Falcon rise up while being blasted by little Star Wars Lego Stormtroopers with blinking lights coming out of their blasters was amazing … for all ages.

There are roller coasters to ride before lunch, and some you shouldn’t go on after lunch. There are also opportunities to get creative by building your own designs. We have a go at constructing a high rise building and then hitting the earthquake button. I’m glad we don’t live in any of the buildings we made. We make cars and race them down a slope. Just like the boat building challenge of yesterday, my skills are old school and obsolete. I am lost. I sit at a table trying to work out how various pieces fit together but my fingers look up at me as if to say, “Give up now old man. Leave it to the kids.”

The trick for any theme park is to be something for everyone. Legoland works because Lego transcends age and ability. Even though I couldn’t put together a car using Lego Technic, there are old school bricks and there are big Duplo bricks for the really little kids. That consideration of all ages is really what defines the Legoland Hotel and Legoland water and theme parks.

Thinking of everyone is difficult but it’s what Legoland does best. Even the toilets have low facilities for little kids, accompanied by low sinks and hand dryers.

What surprised me the most during our time in the land of Lego was meeting so many Australian families who had just driven across for a day trip from holidaying on Singapore. We stayed for two nights at the Legoland Hotel and in that time had easy access to the water and theme parks. We also travelled through Jahor Bahru to the whimsical Hello Kitty Town and saw the amazing shopping centres that attract Singapore locals.

For one evening we travelled out of Jahor Bahru to the Sungai Lebam for a firefly cruise. Far from the dizzying sights and sounds of Legoland we sat in silence, apart from the gentle splashing of the mangroves by a crewman to awaken the fireflies.

Tom and Matilda held fireflies in gentle, cupped hands. We proved that great experiences for kids can contrast. Legoland is full of splendour and spectacle that has your senses reeling by the end of the day. For the firefly cruise, my kids had their senses reeling by just sitting still and watching the flights of light float around them.

As part of this evening adventure we also had an extraordinary dinner at the jetty used by our cruise vessel. The Restoran Bujang Terapung served us some of the best fish and crabs I’ve ever eaten and gave us a tour of the live seafood pens afterwards, including the gentle handling of a huge horseshoe crab which resembled a cross between one of Sigourney Weaver’s aliens and a Roomba vacuum cleaner.


When we leave for Singapore, I talk to our driver, Habib, about my love of Nasi Lemak. All of a sudden we’re off the beaten track and we’re just around the corner from where Habib lives, at his local street side eatery. Minutes later we’re seated around local families he knows well, I have a new baby in my arms from the family sitting next to us and on our table are four huge bowls of cendol, plus a banana leaf wrapped nasi lemak for me and plates of fish batter sausages, deep fried bananas and donuts for the rest of the family. The cendol is the best I have ever had. The savoury mix of corn kernels with kidney beans and the sweetness of the pandan flavoured jelly in the shape of string beans, all mixed together with ice and coconut milk is a delicious treat to be long remembered for the experience and the taste.

If Legoland is your destination then make it your accommodation as well. The hotel is an adventure in itself and access to the theme parks is easy, particularly considering hotel guests are granted access to Legoland an hour before the gates open to the public. You will also have the time to have adventures and experiences around Jahore Bahru that will astound you. If even the Singapore locals go to Jahor Bahru for the shopping that should also tell you something about the worth of having a longer stay in this part of the world.

So, it’s not a black and white decision to just visit Legoland. It is a fabulous, bright, multi-coloured decision that, chosen wisely, will see you experience a wonderful theme park and a beautiful part of the world.


Legoland Malaysia is west of Johor Bahru, the capital city of Johor. Fly to Singapore and take a taxi across the causeway to Johor Bahru or fly to Kuala Lumpur and then catch a short flight down to Johor’s Senai International Airport. It is a one-hour drive from Singapore’s Changi International Airport and 20 minutes from Johor’s Senai Airport.

Many airlines fly from Australian capital cities to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, including Qantas, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, AirAsia and Singapore Airlines. My family travelled to Singapore from Bali on Tiger Air.


At the Legoland Hotel, all deluxe and suite rooms can sleep up to eight people. All standard and premium rooms can sleep up to five people. An Adventure-themed premium room will cost about $203 and each room has its own treasure hunt, Lego bricks to build (and step on) and all guests have entry to the Legoland Theme Park and Legoland Water Park one hour before the gates open to the public. An adult one-day ticket combo includes entry to the theme park and water park and is RM180 ($A56). A child one-day ticket combo is RM144.


The hotel’s buffet restaurant caters to all ages, tastes and styles while the theme parks have a variety of fast food restaurants and snack bars. Just make sure you save the burgers for after the roller coasters.

For some excellent traditional Malaysian cuisine, try the street stalls throughout Johor Bahru. One highlight is the slightly bizarre cendol, a traditional dessert made with green jelly noodles, ice and coconut milk with added extras on request such as beans and corn.